My friends Claudine, Marc and I spent the day doing the downtown loop by way of the New York City sightseeing bus tour. I had never done it before and I am now a fan. Claudine and Marc enjoyed it tremendously as well, we did have a slight hiccup, but it didn’t take anything away from the overall enjoyment of the day. The great thing about these bus tours is the idea that you can hop on and hop off, so we hopped off at the Flat Iron District and when we tried to hop back on at Union Square, unfortunately the guide book directed us to the wrong street, we missed two buses, but the important thing was that we figured it out eventually, lol. We bravely decided to do it again, this time at the South Street Seaport, this time we found the bus so we hopped back on without a hitch, we really liked the Seaport, it’s still being worked on, but there is a lot to see and the history is simply fascinating, an important part of New York’s formative years.
Today I spent a glorious day with my dear friends Claudine and Marc, friends of my amazing cousin Francoise, who are spending this week in New York. We walked along the high line with my mother, who joined us mid afternoon, and before that we had walked down Avenue of the Americas and these are some pictures of our walkabout.
We arrived in Avignon yesterday at 12:00 and thankfully our hotel was only a short distance from the train station. Speaking of train stations, we had an interesting time leaving Arles for Avignon. The train ride itself was unexceptional and short, only twenty minutes but trying to leave the station was another story. While we were waiting for the train, the baby girl and I noticed a group of gypsy women hanging out on the platform smoking cigarettes, talking and laughing. Apparently we weren’t the only ones who noticed because the railroad personnel soon came to us and others, politely asking for tickets and making it clear, politely, that without a ticket, you were not welcome on the platform. I think that this was a game between the authorities and the gypsy women over who had the power and who was in the right and the gypsy women were not about to give in, the railroad gentlemen politely told them that the Avignon police were coming to peacefully escort them away from the platform and they walked away laughing.
Once on board however we weren’t moving because the gypsy women in small pairings were running back and forth in the cars and out, this time over the loud speaker, the conducted stated that we were experiencing a delay because the police were definitely on their way. I told the baby girl that this was going to be in tomorrows edition, our train held hostage by a band of 8-10 gypsy women. They weren’t dangerous, just completely dismissive of the law. At least they seemed to be having fun thumbing their noses to the French railway, I was glad that the car had air conditioning because yesterday was the start of even hotter temperatures. We are going to melt way in the next few days. The train eventually started moving, no one was arrested and the game between the gypsies and the authorities was for another time, without us as the audience.
The baby girl and spent all day walking throughout the city of Avignon. It is grand, I felt very comfortable here, more so than in Nice and Arles. Nice was way too over run by tourists, cars and overbuilt, it I think lost its charm of twenty years ago. Arles, I really loved for its huge archaeological riches and tiny winding streets but I felt that the city itself was fatigued from all of the weight of history.
Avignon, I have the sense of sunlight, wide open squares, happiness and a feeling of well-being that permeates the air. We arrived very hungry and the hotel’s owner’s wife Sylvie recommended Ginette’s and Marcel’s Bistro de Tartines. A tartine is an open-faced sandwich which is wildly popular here. The baby girl had a smoked salmon with creme fraiche, capers and lemon. I had pesto, tomatoes and mozzarella cheese melted under the broiler as my tartine. We ate them under the Bistro’s parasols in the Place, there was a fountain and a beautiful black dog jumped into the fountain to cool off.
Afterwards we simply walked, we made our way up to the Rocher des Doms, which is the rock of the Doms, the highest elevation in Avignon. I took many pictures, the surrounding countryside was beautiful, the far off mountains majestic, it was breath taking. Right below us when we descended was the Palais des Papes, the Pope’s Palace, it represents centuries of power struggles between the church and the nation state and even between two church leaders themselves. It is vast and beautiful, to think of all the wealth designated to buildings these monuments to God when there was so much poverty back then, there still is so much poverty in this very world of today. It makes me sad to see the sharp contrast of all this wealth for a few while the majority have little.
As we kept walking throughout the different areas within Avignon, I kept taking pictures of whatever visually intrigued me. Hopefully when I get back home in a few days and upload them, my pictures will tell a complementary story to go with my words.
This morning after breakfast, the baby girl and I will be walking to the marche, I have to see it. The marche in France are one of my favorite places to visit, the sights, the noise, the aromas in the air, I love it. After the marche, it’s lunch followed by more walking until it is time for our 16:15 train to Lyons.
The train ride from Carcassonne was hard. We were already hot from visiting the old city and when the train arrived at the station it was already packed, so lugging our bags through two train cars until we found our seats was a trial. The train car was air conditioned but with the cumulative affect of body heat and 95 degree weather I was sweating profusely and once I get hot, my body is like a furnace, it takes forever for the inner core to cool down. I had kept the tourist map of Carcassonne in my bag and it worked beautifully as a fan. The train ride wasn’t direct, we had to change trains at Marseille and we only had a half hour waiting time between trains which is great if the first one arrives on time. Ours didn’t, so as we watched our connection leave without us, we lugged our bags off the train and through the cavernous terminal of the famous Gare de Marseille. I was going to see about exchanging our tickets at the ticket counter when I spied on the Departure Board, a train heading to Nice-Ville leaving at 20:30 on Track D, I turned and told baby girl to follow me. Without too much added stress, we arrived at Nice around 23:30 exhausted and hot and determined to get a taxi.
We got a taxi but it wasn’t easy, we encountered our first shickster. He told me that taxi’s had a minimum distance they had to travel and my hotel wasn’t far enough. By this time my brain was fried, my body was crying internally for a bed and I said I’ll give you 20 euros to take us to our hotel. We got to the hotel five minutes later and it was 20 euros well spent. Yesterday I walked to the station to get tickets to Arles for Tuesday and there was no way in this universe that we could have lugged our baggages to the hotel.
Our hotel, Hotel des Cigales, is fantastic. I highly recommend it. It is in a great location, three streets away from the Promenade des Anglais and the sea and five minutes walking distance from the open air marche and Vieux Nice, old Nice. The breakfast here at the hotel is really nice, they offer choices of savory things like cured meats, eggs and cheeses or croissants, fresh bread, cereal, fruit and yogurt. The staff is very friendly and helpful as well. The rooms are well air-conditioned and there is free wifi. What more can you ask for?
Nice is interesting, as we walk along all the charming streets, the baby girl and I are hearing every language except French. There are the Scandinavians roaming in full force the streets of Nice, joining them are visitors from Eastern Europe and Russia and don’t forget the Italians, they love Nice. It is strange not to hear French when you are ordering an ice cream cone even though you are surrounded by people. I imagine Nice in September is a vastly different city when everyone goes back home and back to work. The prices here are very expensive, I shouldn’t be surprised, it is a city surviving on the tourist trade, but I was a little shocked paying 42 euros for two salads, granted they were a Cobb salad and a Nicoise salad, a coke, a Perrier and a bottle of Vittel. It is a grand city and the architecture is stunning, very majestic, I especially love the musician’s quarter. They call it that because all the streets are named after the greats; Rossinni, Mozart, Vivaldi and etc. I would call the architecture classic, I’m not versed in the school of architecture, I just know what is pleasing to my eyes and that quarter has caught my eyes.
There is a reason why they say Nice is nice.
Francoise took the baby girl and I for a drive to Giverny to see the house where Claude Monet lived and created his gardens that served as his inspiration for much of his work throughout the rest of his years. I had always thought that Monet had painted his landscapes more towards the south west of France, I was happily surprised to learn that Monet’ home in Giverny was only 45 minutes away from Rouen. The reason that I was surprised was because the region of Normandy isn’t known for its sunny climes and the bounty that made up the gardens was amazing. Monet in all of his paintings at Giverny showcased the abundance of sunflowers, lavender beds, upright phlox, butterfly bushes and a myriad of other varieties of flowers that I know by sight but not by name. The house and gardens open in the spring and stay open into the fall. I would love to do a seasonal tour of the gardens to see the transformation from the early spring awakening through until the fall starts its descent into hibernation mode for the coming year. My baby girl took her canon and I could hear her camera shuttering away so that when we get home I’ll be able to put together a photo montage for you. the house itself was large, two stories, with the upstairs comprised of two open bedrooms, showing us Claude’s bedroom and the other was the bedroom of his second wife’s. The other closed doors, I assume we’re the bedrooms for the children, eight altogether, two from Claude’s first marriage and six from his second wife’s first marriage. The dining room was an immense room with a huge table, obviously someone enjoyed entertaining his many friends and fellow painters. Francoise told me that the light, that which is the lifeline for most painters and photographers, is very special in Normandy, it has to do with the overcast skies and the ephemeral presence of fog at dawn and dusk. I can imagine there can’t be anything better than having wonderful meals, great wine and conversation and then spending time in a magnificent garden painting nature at her best.
What was so interesting about the dining room was the color of its walls and ceiling; the richest, brightest yellow that I have seen used for interior paint. Francoise and I were commenting on the color scheme and we overheard a Frenchman say that given Normandy’s propensity for rainy days and cloudy skies, the color yellow was necessary to brighten the room and the spirits. Next door obviously there was the kitchen, an homage to blue and white detailed tile, it housed a huge stove top and oven, fueled by wood. Right next to it on the other side of the doorway was a stone-lined very wide sink. There was ample working space for the kitchen work, in short it was one of the nicest kitchens from the nineteenth century that I had ever seen, did I mention all the copper pots hanging against the wall? I love copper, it has warmth and personality as far as metals go, in my opinion. Seeing where all cooking and the preparation was done made me very happy to have my modern appliance; some have difficulty with roasting in a oven of today, imagine roasting in an oven fired up with wood, much more difficult.
After we were done with the house and the gardens, we headed back home with a detour to Carrefour, the super huge supermarket, we needed fruit, sparkling water and vegetables. I have to say that French supermarkets are just as nice to visit as other real tourist attractions. It is aisle after aisle of culinary delights coupled with an extensive array of fresh fish, an impressive range of different meats at the butcher’s corner. The baby girl’s favorite aisle is the yogurt aisle with the cookie aisle a close second.
Today, another great day of discovery and just being with my cousin who is very much like an older sister for me.